HC Deb 04 November 1955 vol 545 cc1439-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I wish to raise once more a problem to which I have referred many times in the past—that of unmade private streets, particularly as it affects some parts of my constituency. I trust that my hon. Friend will forgive me for having pressed this on so many occasions, but I know that he will understand when I say that this is a problem of great concern to very many of my constituents and, I am sure, to those of other hon. Members.

Today, I am not particularly concerned with roads and streets where the houses have been built since 1951, although they obviously are also worthy of mention and need consideration. I know of many such roads in Barry. Indeed, I was in two roads recently, one called Dyffryn Place and the other called Morningside Walk, where the houses have been built in the last few years, and there are similar cases in the area of the Cardiff Rural District Council. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider ways by which the completion of these newly-developed areas, can be accelerated.

I am more concerned about the older roads which serve pre-war houses or, in some cases, pre-war houses combined with a number of post-war houses which have been built to complete a particular road. There are many examples in my own constituency. Last week-end I was in Victoria Park Road, Barry. That road has been in the same unmade condition since the turn of the century. The problem reaches its greatest magnitude within the area of the Cardiff Rural District Council. I have in my possession a list of 54 such roads, and I am told that only 19 are likely to be completed by private developers. That means that 35 roads or streets remain to be made up, most of them under the pre-1951 formula.

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

Mr. Gower

As I was saying, this leaves 35 streets and roads which remain to be made up under the pre-1951 formula. Of these, only 17 are on a priority list which, I understand, has been worked out by the Glamorgan County Council after consultation with the rural district council concerned.

I have visited each of these 54 roads to ascertain the conditions there, and I do not think I am guilty of any exaggeration at all if I say that each of the roads on the priority list is in a deplorable condition. Many of the others are not much better. Indeed, some of them not on the priority list are just as bad as those which are.

Let me cite the instance of a road called Queen Street, in the village of Tongwynlais, near Cardiff. My constituent, Mr. J. Welsh, of 51, Queen Street, wrote to me on 14th October last as follows: Stagnant water is lying about year in year out. With the coming of winter we shall soon have a churned up mixture of mud and slush. He also said: I would be grateful if someone from the Ministry of Health could see this. Another typical road is Heol-y-Gors, Whitchurch, near Cardiff, and my constituent, Mr. W. R. Jenkins, of 32, Heol Coed-Cae, Whitchurch, on 11th October, wrote about this road: The road is unmade and consists almost entirely of deep pot holes. I and several other residents in this road have written to the various local authorities only to he told in effect that they can do nothing. He added: With another winter upon us we are not happy at the prospect of trudging through the mud to get to the bus stop. On 16th September last this road was described in a front page article in the "Cardiff and South Wales Times" as a "Mons battlefield." I should like to quote part of that article. It said, among other things: Irate householders in Heol-y-Gors, Whitchurch—the road described by many as like a 'Mons battlefield' and a 'switchback'—have waited 20 years for it to be surfaced. A few who went to live there two years ago and paid a total of £850 for the existing road made of hardcore and ballast want an end to the delay, for they know that the longer they wait the more money they will have to pay when the bills arrive. Why the delay? The article also reported that a spokesman of the Glamorgan County Council, in reply to a query, said: We have many roads to make up first. Heol-y-Gors is not one of them. That road is not the only one of that kind. I have seen it, and I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to see it.

Another important point arises from that article which is worthy of particular consideration. The longer this work is postponed the more the road charges are likely to be to the householders eventually.

I do not wish to weary the House with a catalogue of the very large number of streets involved, streets in a similar condition, but I can tell my hon. Friend that in one small village on the outskirts of Cardiff, Tongwynlais, there are four streets—Bute Street, Wellington Street, Canal Parade, and Birch Hill, in addition to the one I have mentioned, which are in a terrible state in wet weather and which, even in dry weather, are filled with ruts and pot holes. The parish of Whitchurch, just outside Cardiff, has a very large number of these streets. Last winter, on more than one occasion, I experienced the difficulties of my constituents. On one occasion when I was in Athelstan Road Whitchurch, it resembled a small lake, and in the darkness I got my trousers and shoes in a shocking condition while I was looking for the home of one of my constituents.

My hon. Friend will, I am sure, forgive me for having taken these examples from my own constituency, for I am sure that he appreciates that the problem exists in many other parts of the country, too. The progress of making up these streets is far too slow and the existing procedure is quite inadequate. I refer more particularly to the procedure whereby the county council or the appropriate highway authority draws up a priority list and these roads are dealt with very slowly, one by one, so that no impression seems to be made on the formidable list.

The feelings of the people concerned are aggrevated and intensified by the fact that around them they see new and attractive roads being built in both private estates and municipal housing estates. They see these lovely roads being built and surfaced with tarmacadam, whereas they have been living in some cases for twenty or thirty years, or even longer, with these unmade roads. In some cases they have paid road charges to superior ground landlords or others, in some cases they are willing to pay them now, and in some cases they want to pay them now rather than at some future date when the charges will be much bigger.

I do not expect my hon. Friend to give me an answer to the problem today, but I hope he will assure me that his right hon. Friend will re-examine it. I trust that he will give me an assurance that an attempt will be made to evolve a better formula for dealing with the problem. We have done so much in other directions since the war. I do not think this can be associated with any other single problem, because it is a problem in itself. Most of these people are private owners, although in some cases they are tenants, and they have perhaps been the forgotten few. They are not usually vociferous, indeed, they are long-suffering, and I believe that they have a real grievance which should be remedied fairly soon.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Donald Sumner (Orpington)

I had not thought that I should have had an opportunity to speak in this short debate, but there are several minutes in hand and I do not propose to take much longer than that. This problem is such a great problem in my constituency that I should like to reinforce as strongly as I can what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower).

In Orpington, which is a very small constituency, we have forty miles of unmade roads. That is within the urban district area alone. The situation has arisen largely because there was a great deal of building immediately before the war. For reasons into which there is not time to go now, those estates were never really completed. Year after year the residents there have had to tramp through roads which are in a most deplorable condition. In fact, it is a joke in the constituency—except that it is not funny. At this time of the year the question arises in the local Press year after year.

One excuse I have for speaking on the subject is that I was chairman of the committee of the council which has to try to cope with it. The council, it may be thought, has taken active steps to try to cope with it; it went so far as to introduce a Private Bill to deal with the matter and under that Act, as it is now, the council can take further steps.

There is not sufficient time to make suggestions about all the things that could be done or those matters that could be altered, but I submit that the whole problem requires a fresh approach. It cannot be dealt with if matters are left as they are. If the best were to be done in my constituency, the problem could not be dealt with in less than fifteen years. I appeal to the Minister for a fresh approach to the subject, if possible.

4.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has taken for some time a very close and conscientious interest in this problem. He has raised the subject many times before, and, as he has said, he has visited upward of fifty of the roads that are involved. His constituents have reason to be grateful to him. He has also quoted, I think without exaggeration, some very bad examples. I accept the fact that they are most discouraging and most perplexing for the many people who are involved.

I hope to say something about the background of the problem in order to throw a little more light on the difficulties that are involved but, first, I should like to touch on the local position, which concerns in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Barry. At this point I may say that I am not unfamiliar with the local problem of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Sumner). I can recall a dark and rainy night not long ago when the car in which I was travelling was bogged down in one of the roads to which he referred, when I was on my way to speak in his support in a political campaign.

Partly as a result of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Barry and his interest in this matter, Glamorgan County Council made a survey of its streets in 1952. This revealed a total of about 250 unmade streets. In a programme based on current financial policy the council agreed with the Welsh Department of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to make up, in 1953–54 and 1954–55, a total of fifteen streets at a cost of £47,500. As a result of the relaxation of building controls, however, the council was told in August, 1954, that it could increase this programme as it wished.

In March this year the county council reported that it was not getting on with the programme as fast as it had hoped on account of the opposition of the frontagers in several cases. My hon. Friend will appreciate that this is not an unfamiliar difficulty in the case of private street works. Very often, when the apportioned costs come into the picture, the frontagers may change their tune. However, in spite of the difficulty, the county council is at present undertaking work on the last five of the original fifteen streets, and has added to that list thirty streets to be made up in the course of the next year or two. As matters go this year, we can call this in relation to progress elsewhere a good and conscientious record for the county council.

I should like to say a few words about the general position before I turn to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry. It was really development between the wars that led to the situation in which we now have a vast number of unmade streets. There was no onus then on private developers to make up or to pay deposits towards the cost of making them up. Sometimes they added a sum to the purchase price in respect of road charges and then defaulted, and sometimes the matter was not dealt with at all. The frontagers themselves, though very often indignant about the state of affairs, did not always carry their indignation to the point of being ready to pay the apportionment charges to the local authority.

There are a number of cases, not only in Wales, where there has accumulated an alarming back-log of unmade streets which during the war and the immediate post-war years have still further deteriorated and are now not only unhealthy but positively dangerous. Restrictions on capital investment in the post-war years did not help. They led to the rationing of local authorities on private street works and in those years there was very often the difficulty of fixing an appropriate ration in each case, frequently against great pressure by local authorities to do more work. But that came to an end with the removal of building controls in November, 1954, and my right hon. Friend's function then was reduced to that of loan sanction. Therefore, we no longer have power to stop a street being made up even if we wanted to.

During the last fourteen months, as far as we are concerned no loan applications have been refused. Therefore, my hon. Friend will, I know, acquit us of causing any bottleneck in what is happening. Our policy is reflected in the total annual figures for private street works, which have risen steadily during the last few years. In the financial year 1950–51, the figure for England and Wales was £¼ million; in 1951–52, £1½ million; 1953, over £1½ million; and in 1954, a little under £2½ million. As authorisation is no longer required, the available figures for this year refer only to loans sanctioned. These amount to £1¼ million, but this figure cannot be compared with the earlier figures. The total volume of work put in hand must be considerably greater.

In Wales, the total for the period of nearly five years from April, 1950, to December, 1954, was £460,000, or about 7 per cent. of the total for England and Wales. For the years 1953, 1954 and 1955 the amount of work put in hand in Wales was on average about 6 per cent. of the national total.

Perhaps I should add that the message which was sent out by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Housing and Local Government on 26th October asked local authorities to try to ensure that their capital expenditure for 1956–57 does not exceed that for 1954–55. This means, presumably, that private street works may reasonably be put in hand to about the same extent as in 1954–55: that is, an annual value of about 2¼ million for all concerned.

I should like to turn to one or two of the points made by my hon. Friend and to give some answers. I accept what he says about the accumulated backlog. I hope he will accept that this is simply another of the problems that we have inherited from the war and inter-war years, but it is not the only one, for there are also such matters as housing, schools, main roads, and so on. While local authorities are doing their best to put the position right, it must inevitably take a long time to put it completely right.

The Department has always recognised the importance of this problem and has allowed authorities to put in hand as much of the work as seems to us consistent with current financial policy. I stress the point which I made earlier that in the last fourteen months we have refused no application for loan sanction, which may be one reason why the volume of work has steadily increased.

It is true also that new roads in housing areas are made up before others which have been waiting a long time. That is often a source of grievance. Although it seems superficially unfair, perhaps, it is only common sense to take steps to prevent the backlog from growing any larger while we are still engaged on overtaking the backlog. It is only sensible to make up roads when they are first laid out instead of leaving them unmade perhaps for years.

I must add that in many cases progress in connection with a number of roads in the Cardiff rural district has been hindered by the objections of the frontagers themselves to paying their share of the cost of the works. The law provides that objections of this nature should be heard, and as long as that law obtains there will obviously be entailed some delay. Recently, I believe, the Glamorgan County Council has reduced objections a good deal by itself making contributions to the cost of street works, which has reduced the apportioned cost of flank frontagers. Flank frontagers are those whose expenses are always greatest. Very often. therefore, they are the most vociferous objectors.

My hon. Friend asked for two assurances from me, one of which would be outside the scope of the debate and out of order since I think that it would involve some amendment of existing legislation. I do not altogether accept what he says about the procedure being wrong, because the procedure, as I hope I have indicated, does lie very largely in the hands of the local authorities. They can decide how much they feel able to spend on this item and when they have made that decision, provided—as I have said they do—they get loan sanction from us, it is up to them to move forward.

I stress, speaking here for my right hon. Friend, that the making up of private streets is entirely at the discretion of the local authority, and that our functions are now limited to loan sanction and the determination of appeals. Subject to that, I accept what my hon. Friend has said about this being an urgent and irksome problem. He can count upon us to give all the encouragement we can to those local authorities like his own who are most particularly affected.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I do not intend to delay the House for very long, and, in any case, I should be prevented from so doing, but I should like to say that I have listened to the debate with great interest, especially to the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. This problem affects North Dorset. We have many of these unmade roads, and I frequently get letters from my constituents. I listened with great interest to all my hon. Friends' remarks about how local authorities can apply for loans to repair some of these streets. In fact, I would warn him that, as a result of the debate, he may be getting an application for loans from North Dorset to try to deal with some of the worst streets we have there.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Four o'clock.